Almost a year has passed since Bountiful residents were clued in on the current effort of the city leaders and management to build a new city hall and plaza. It’s time to review how we got here.
In October of 2014, Bountiful City started re-considering a New City Hall, after a previous proposal was cancelled in Sept. 2013 due to residents’ outcry against the plan. A resident’s article published last year, following the discovery of the city’s new plan, asked:
“Didn't you hear us last time?”
“What changed from the last time?”
So, what changed from the proposal that was opposed in Sept. 2013? The location? Yes Now has a drastically larger impact.
The cost? Yes Higher cost this go around.
The need? No Wasn’t needed then, and isn’t needed now. Bountiful City’s Downtown Plan timeline states that the reason the last “city hall” plan was postponed was to make sure that it was needed, and they wanted to hire an architect to research. So why would any plans be actioned when their chosen architect GSBS’s review of the current city hall states: “The Bountiful City Hall can and should have a useful life that is double the current age of this building in order to maximize the long-term benefit to the City.”?
Bountiful City residents’ view? No Was “no” then, and is “No New City Hall” now.
Furthermore, there are many other negative impacts, as has been described in previous articles and conversations. Some of the most bitter are losing the U of U extension, Stoker School, a well-placed and mature government campus, not to mention the millions of dollars that will be spent on something unnecessary while other parts of the city crumble.
On the other hand, the council has explained several different benefits from following through on this. The most referenced is the benefit of receiving $21-$23 million in Redevelopment Agency Funds. These funds come from our property tax, and are re-distributed from county agencies to try to promote growth…the largest owner of these funds being the school district. Some of the council and city employees presented the proposed new city hall, a “plaza plan” to try to re-new the RDA funds for the city. The good news, it was renewed. However, misleading statements have been made in council meetings and social media communications to the effect that the RDA funds are conditional upon the new city hall and plaza being built. This is not true, and has been confirmed to me by members of the TEC (County RDA Board) and recently by councilman John Pitt.
So, can we have the RDA funds without the new city hall and plaza? YES! The RDA funds were granted because they liked the initiative of the plan presented, not necessarily the plan itself. Additionally, we would be giving up 13+ millions of mostly unrestricted funds that can be used on almost anything in the city. The RDA funds that we MAY get ($21-23 million) are restricted greatly in regards to what they can be used for, and can only be used in a very small part of the city: something like 4 percent of the area of Bountiful is considered RDA. With so much opposition, and no specific agreement to build a city hall to receive the RDA funds, why not look to alternatives that everyone can get on board with?
Another benefit that has been presented is that the city hall and plaza will revitalize, stimulate, and rejuvenate downtown. I still haven’t heard a reasonable or realistic argument as to how a city hall in that location will do that. A recent letter to the editor by Jim Jones, titled “New City Hall will help revitalize Bountiful City,” did not have one statement in it that explained how it would do this. There is a plethora of details around ADA compliance issues of the current city hall, which by the way has never had any ADA citations. Why not revitalize with the private sector? By someone who’s livelihood relies on the success of their business, rather than continually funding a false livelihood with taxpayers’ dollars?
Side note: I apologize if I vomit on the next person that says, “What’s the problem? The money is there.”
Now, for the punch line. My employer is the leading manufacturer, innovator, and servicer of commercial explosives in North America. Because of the dangerous nature of our industry we spend millions upon millions annually on safety. THE BIGGEST RULE to a successful safety culture is talking about the “elephants in the room.” What does this mean? It is something that is quintessential to safety, but nobody wants to bring it up because it is either #1 obvious and you don’t want to look silly, #2 keeps you from getting what you want, or #3 isn’t easy.
Through relentless questioning, and trying to obtain answers from city leaders, I am of the opinion that there is a BIG elephant in the room. It seems that our leaders are missing, or at least turning their heads, when it is brought up. It’s one of the primary responsibilities of the city to its residents: infrastructure. The infrastructure is in bad shape, and we are not listening to the experts that we have hired to manage it.
When we have department heads stating they don’t have the budget to keep up on their areas of responsibility, and they haven’t for 20+ years, there is a problem. When you talk with street department workers who say they can’t run their asphalt compaction roller vibration at the proper level to compact the road, because it causes water mains to break, and then your water main breaks a week later, there is a problem. When a road is overlaid to save money when it needed to be completely replaced, and fails within a year, there is a problem. When my great grandfather, grandfather, and uncle have climbed the same power poles that are still in service today (60-70+ years), when they should have a normal life span of 30 years, there is a problem.
What is the impact? It will impact us financially, but how much? Nobody knows for sure, and therein lies the problem. Our council has made a huge financial decision to move forward with a new city hall without completely understanding the whole picture in detail. I can tell you from in-depth research that as the infrastructure sits, there will be a large impact. Mark my words, a tax increase is inevitable if we build a new city hall. Could we avoid a tax increase if we didn’t build a city hall? Maybe, but we don’t know because we haven't done the complete due diligence to know that. But one thing is for sure, the 13+ million would be a great start to get us back on a maintenance plan. Understanding this isn’t a one-time thing, it’s a perpetual program that needs to be implemented. For example, we have 159 miles of road, with a 12-year life span. That’s a little over 13 miles of road replaced every year. Not the 3-6 miles of overlay that we have been doing for the past number of years.
We must remember, while we live in an affluent area, a city government needs to run based upon those in the most meager situations. One where only the basic essentials are in reach.
I’ve heard statements directed to those that oppose the new city hall plan, saying they aren’t forward thinking, or don’t want any progress. This just isn’t true. We have a different opinion about what the future can, and should hold. A future that is well planned and sustainable, while not as fun or flashy as a new city hall plaza, is what is needed.